For Jared Dixon, life felt like it was on a set path headed for prison.
With many of his whānau in and out of prison, as a young child he wanted to experience life behind bars for a day, just to see what it was like.
An upbringing surrounded by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence soon led him to smoking weed every day from the age of 12.
“A few years later, I tried meth for the first time, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As soon as I took meth, I turned into a different person and I quickly became addicted. It led me down a very dark, destructive path which caused me to do many horrible things that today I’m not proud of.”
These horrible things landed Jared in prison for six years. When he finally got out, he was ready to turn his life around and do good. But being surrounded by the wrong people, doing the wrong things, made it difficult.
“I got sucked right back into my destructive lifestyle of drugs and crime – it was all around me. I had no positive people in my life. I was lost and felt completely hopeless.”
Jared was stuck in this lifestyle, with no hope of getting out. That is until his probation officer referred him to Live for More and he joined their Tai Wātea surf therapy programme.
The programme provides intensive wrap-around support for young men who are disengaged and have fallen through the cracks.
For those entangled in the justice system, drugs and alcohol, and gang associations, typically due to traumatic upbringings and difficult home lives, the support is a shining light; empowering them to see that change is possible and that they are in control of their future.
Weekly surfing sessions, clinical psychology treatment, group work, goal setting, and motivational speakers help the young men find freedom from their past and step into their true potential.
Jared says the first time he went surfing with Live for More, all he felt was peace and freedom out in the water.
“My life had always just been full of dramas, fighting and negativity, so peace was an incredible and new feeling for me.”
“The surfing was good for me, but it was everything else at Live for More that really helped me change. The counselling and guidance helped me to see a different way to do life.
“I knew the staff at Live for More truly wanted the best for me, and I could feel the genuine love and aroha they had for me and all of the other boys. I had always known I had potential, but I had never known how to use it until Live for More showed me.”
Now, Jared has been clean from drugs for over a year.
“I am crime-free, I no longer sell drugs, I am working full-time, and I’m no longer in the gang I was in. I am breaking the dysfunctional cycles that have been in my family for generations. I now have hope for my future and I am so excited for all life has in store for me.”
It’s a story familiar to Live for More Operations Manager Dave de Graaf. The programme has been running since 2016, and has seen 89 young men come through and change their lives.
Dave says surfing works due to its therapeutic nature.
“When the boys are out in the water, they are getting back to basics; exercise, fresh air, ocean. But it is also teaching them a skill that gives them a lot of confidence.
“What they say over and over again is that they feel free out on the water. Normally, they are in chaotic home environments. Surfing gives them peace to reflect on their lives, where they’ve come from and where they want to go.
And surfing also offers a side door to build relationships.
“For young men, it can be challenging to open up and talk about their struggles. Inviting them to a counselling session alone won’t get a positive response. But with the surf programme they are keen.
“It’s about breaking down barriers. These young men are used to all clinical methods and are closed off to them. But surf therapy is almost like a side door. We build a relationship first and then start doing the counselling alongside it.”
Live for More also provide ongoing support for past graduates through their weekly Reunion surf programme, Tai Tautoko, which serves as a support group for the young men to stay on track.
TECT Trustee Peter Blackwell says TECT is proud to have supported the programme for the past three years, with $100,000 going towards their operating costs.
“Seeing how far these young men have come, from having no hope stuck in the justice system, to having a whole new lease on life – it is truly inspiring.
“The Live for More surf therapy model is a unique one which we are so glad to get behind. It is truly having a transformational effect – reducing drug and alcohol use, removing these young men from gang life and helping them get on the path to a brighter future.”